April's shower of FOIA cases

April 2022

FOIA cases brought against state-wide officers/agencies


Governor of Virginia (pending) The Virginian-Pilot, Daily Press, the Associated Press, NPR and multiple television stations have together filed suit against the governor in Richmond Circuit Court over the administration's refusal to release results of the calls made to the parental tip line for complaints about "divisive concepts" being taught in school the governor established soon after taking office. The governor has cited the working papers and correspondence exemption to justify withholding the records; the media outlets say, in part, that the messages have lost any privilege they may have had when they were shared outside the governor's office, in this case with the American Enterprise Institute.
Virginia Department of Education Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter, Patrick Wilson, filed on his own in Richmond General District Court to compel the VDOE to comply with that part of FOIA that says, when denying access to records, government must identify "with reasonable particularity," the "volume and subject matter" of the withheld records. The judge ordered the DOE to identify the subject matter of five emails withheld from Wilson, and the people sending/receiving those messages.
Virginia Department of Education On behalf of Virginia Public Media reporter, Ben Paviour, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed suit in Richmond Circuit Court against the DOE for its failure to release the attachment to an email. The department said the attachment was exempt under as the governor's working papers, but the RCFP said it was not created for the governor's "personal or deliberative use." The document was also shared with various state agencies. Ahead of the March 25 hearing in the case, the attorney general's office gave VPM the record -- which was a directive on how the various state agencies would be impacted by the governor's first 10 executive orders -- still maintaining that it was a working paper but exercising discretion to release it.
Supreme Court of Virginia In a case brought by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which asked the Supreme Court to unseal records, as well as the order sealing the records, filed with the high court by a Virginia Beach judge, the Supreme Court agreed to release some of the records, and the sealing order, but said the others had to be kept confidential because they related to actions taken by the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission, which are themselves confidential. Judge Adrianne Bennett, who has been at the heart of the controversy surrounding the Parole Board's release of some prisoners during the COVID outbreak without fully following board procedures, filed the papers with the high court in a mandamus proceeding, the subject of which was kept confidential. The dissent argued the legislature specifically added law in the 1990s to strip JIRC confidentiality when records are used in different proceedings. Moreover, the dissent pointed out several key facts that the majority only casually referred to: (1) Judge Bennett was asking the Supreme Court to order JIRC to revoke the suspension it imposed on her, and (2) the order to seal the records did not contain the findings of fact that usually accompany a sealing order; the judge urged the court to "own up to our mistakes." Read the opinion here and read some of VCOG's tweets on the case.
Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services A Goochland County Circuit Court judge sided with an addiction recovery advocate, Michael McDermott, against the OEMS over that office's failure to fully comply with McDermott's FOIA request for overdose data. Though the office  gave McDermott the data in past years, OEMS told him they were unable to access the full range of data to meet his request because it was migrating data to a new information system. They estimated it woud take months before the migration was complete. The office also directed McDermott to data that was online, but McDermott and his attorney, Andrew Bodoh, realized the data was incomplete. The judge ordered OEMS to pay Bodoh's attorney fees.
Attorney General of Virginia In a case started when Mark Herring still served as attorney general, Richmond Circuit Court judge ordered the current attorney general to perform another search for records in response to a FOIA request from Christopher Horner and the Competitive Enterprise Institute over access to Michael Bloomberg's connection to the AG's privately hired special assistant attorneys general.



FOIA cases brought against localities/school districts

Prince George County School Board A citizen of Prince George County filed a FOIA suit in general district court alleging and improper closed meeting. During the hearing on the case, a representative for the school admitted that it was improper to cite the public safety exemption to justify a closed session about whether a school in the district should be renamed. The judge did not issue and injunction but the school said future closed-session agendas would be reviewed by an attorney. The judge ordered the school to reimburse the citizen for her filing fee.
City of Bristol In a dispute between Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia, over a foul-smelling landfill, a judge set deadlines for Virginia to follow when turning records over to Tennessee. The Virginia city's manager blamed the delay on the months-long FOIA dispute on the size of the request, which he said generated over 1.3 million documents and email. Tennessee agreed to narrow the scope of its request.
City of Charlottesville (pending)

A group of Charlottesville residents filed suit against the city citing FOIA violations and First Amendment problems. The FOIA provisions challenged emails about police misconduct settlements that were withheld under the attorney-client and attorney work-product exemptions of FOIA. The suit noted that one email in particular was one between the city's attorney and the attorney representing a  complainant against the city.

City of Charlottesville (pending)

Two entities who want to prevent the city from melting down the now-removed statue of General Robert E. Lee filed suit in Charlottesville Circuit Court alleging that the city council did not give proper notice of its meeting in December where the decision do dispose of the statue was made.

Spotsylvania County Public Schools (pending)

A recent graduate of Spotsylvania County public schools filed suit against the county school division over what it said were multiple violations of FOIA, including going into a closed meeting without holding the prerequisite vote on a motion to approve such a meeting.

Loudoun County Public Schools

A Loudoun County Circuit Court judged refused to compel the county school district to turn over what the district had called its "independent review" of the division's handling of two sexual assault cases. The report, prepared by an outside law firm, was withheld from the public citing personnel, scholastic and attorney-client exemptions. The judge said that he was sensitive to the public's interest, "but this is not the vehicle" for getting answers.





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